Refining an idea into a tangible creative product is often complicated, disrupted, and derailed because of two key factors: ineffective processes and indecision. These factors add to a troubling and often unspoken underbelly of the shiny and happy creative ecosystem. The indecision economy lurks in the shadows, gobbling up precious marketing budgets, resulting in increased project costs and muted creative outputs. However, with enough upfront exploration, planning, and gumption, you can let the happy, creative light banish the shadows and improve your outcomes and spending efficiency. 

Process, process, process

If location is the critical buying criterion in real estate, the process of a creative services vendor should be high on your list. The first part of a robust process is helping make sure you are set up correctly to buy something in the first place. In my 15+ years of sales experience, I can say that many companies don’t know how to buy things. I can’t tell you the number of times that enthusiastic, driven professionals boldly pursue new projects driven from the ether of their ideas, only to be blinded by those fumes from some of the most basic tenets of purchasing. 

If your creative services vendor is not exploring your decision tree before you start a process, they are doing you a disservice. Just because you have a budget and buying authority does not mean you need to jump into your project. “Who can change the direction of this project with one comment?” is one of my favorite questions to ask upfront. I recall a conversation with a friend who mentioned working on a $50K+ project for months only to discover that the team waited to show their VP the campaign, and based on their reaction, the entire project was canceled. 

The lesson here is to get those higher-ups involved early. A red flag should be placed on your desktop if you cannot get them involved. And if you don’t have the patience or time for these simple questions, beware of the following “YES” vendor you encounter after your impatience leads you astray. Their lack of bravery and process could set your team back months and waste your budget. 

When you bring the creative team in is important.

With your budget and decision process, now comes the time to consider when to involve the creative team. I find a troubling trend of people believing creative is an afterthought and that “we will just make a quick video”. Sometimes, companies don’t involve creatives until after the product is launched and not meeting expectations. At this point, the frustrations are high, and the search for quick business dopamine overrides logical thinking. 

At this point, the desire to feed primal business emotions plants the seed that will grow into a nasty weed that will choke up project delivery timelines and lead to rushed outcomes or added overage fees. Your creative vendor should outline a process that includes problem definition, desired results, scope of work, and a detailed timeline. If your vendor isn’t providing these, you should have two red flags on your desk.

Consultation creates harmony and inclusion.

If your team has taken the time to develop a full creative brief, you can ignore most of this section. However, many companies who hire outsourced creative teams don’t prepare briefs and bring on a creative team to help them define that work and starting point. 

When your creative services vendor looks to work through problem definition, this is the time to expose them to your stakeholders and subject matter experts. The consultative process should be as simple as one or two meetings to review the problem and outcomes with all involved parties. These two hours will have the highest ROI of any time spent in this process. If you do not have representation from your critical decision-makers, you are planting another destructive seed, and another red flag should be placed on your desk. 

Your decisions and feedback are the oil for the creative engine.

Once the creative process has kicked off, critical milestones will be lined out by your creative services vendor. Usually, the exit criteria for each stage are your approval, input, and feedback. You must understand that your inability to carve out time for your team and critical decision-makers to provide decisive feedback will extend timelines and lead to increased project overages. Usually, those decision timelines range from 24 to 72 business hours. 

As mentioned earlier, those seeds blossom when your team cannot provide feedback or becomes indecisive. Often, when teams don’t spend enough time on those problem definition meetings, it is the root cause. During these phases, your creative teams should guide you on what to provide feedback on and what to ignore. 

The outputs can be crude and basic during the initial concept and storyboard phases. The goal is to iterate quickly without spending time on polishing. Think of any creative project like building a house. First, you must ensure the ground is level and that you have a strong foundation with the agreed basic structure. You should have the vision to understand where you want particular walls. Because if you want to move a wall after the house is built, that will mean increased costs and a move-in date. Please provide specific feedback as the time and cost of changes become more consequential the further you go in the development process. 

The consequences are no different for creative projects. If you are still looking for vision, let your team know, and they can provide you with plenty of specific examples and references, which they may have already done in the earlier processes. At their core, creative products are all custom. Imagine if your company had to get your end customer’s approval throughout various process stages. What would delays from those customers at scale to do your business? If you are in that business, you should understand the importance of vision and decision-making. 

Your frequent access to top-tier creative distracts you from the process. 

Many consumers have access to some of the highest quality creative work shown to them daily. The frequency can create a devaluation of creative assets due to their ubiquity. To see the value, many people need to know the process all those projects underwent. Commericals don’t have credits like movies do. Because the outputs are digital, you get a sense of lower value. In contrast, if you saw expensive cars every day, many people would not think Ferraris would be cheap or wouldn’t take long to build. 

While you might not need a Ferrari of a project, you still need quality creative outputs. Countless stories of people paying a “Ferrari Price” for a “Camry Outcome” exist. And the root cause of the inflation was the need for more process and indecision. When you think of your next creative project, I ask that you refrain from participating in the indecision economy by investing time upfront and respecting the process.

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